Planetary Defense - Interstellar Object Sentinel

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This entry concerns the safety of life on the planet. It proposes action to improve our awareness of potential threats from near earth objects in space by asserting the need for an early warning scanning capability that covers all directions.

The recent 2017 discovery of ‘Oumuamua, the first known interstellar object to enter our solar system, is pertinent. It crossed from above the plane of the planets inside the orbit of Mercury to loop tightly below the sun, emerging above the plane between the orbits of Earth and Mars (see illustration). ‘Oumuamua was discovered some forty days after looping the sun, when already leaving and beyond Earth’s orbit. It was observed at the Pan-STARRS1 observatory in Hawaii, which because of its location on the Earth’s surface is only able to see three quarters of the sky.

NASA and US Government statements do mention the possibility of interstellar object arrivals. However, their policy and goals are focused on asteroid and comet detection to establish the risks from objects in orbit around our sun. This stance can be changed by lobbying and publicization of the issue locally and internationally; to governments, through the worldwide scientific and astronomical communities and Planetary Defense forums. This needs to happen to avoid disastrously late warning of impending threats from arbitrary objects approaching Earth from absolutely any direction in the sky.

As far as we have at present been able to determine, human beings and culture may represent the sole existence of a part of our universe being aware of, and understanding itself. So, we cannot discount the possibility that if human culture fails, or if life on earth fails, then our universe may lose conscious intelligent agency for the remainder of all time.

We have an obvious interest in our descendants achieving awareness of the nature of the universe and being able to influence or determine events and their own future in it or beyond it. So, to that extent, we have a responsibility to protect this, our line of life, from existential threats.

It is not clear at the moment what strategy might be most appropriate to adopt in deploying an alert system. A period of focused investigation should precede any committed project launch to ensure that a visitor such as ‘Oumuamua would not arrive unannounced in future. However, although of existential importance, the issue is not so urgent as to impede the careful selection of the best option for a sentinel system.

Costs would be substantial, but tolerable over the extended period necessary for implementation. However, as well as the potential to improve the chances of survival of human life, and of all life on Earth, the launch of a clearly altruistic endeavor could bring general benefits of hope for the future to all human kind. It might be helpful for a person to know that somewhere in the world, people were considering what might go wrong and setting about doing something to prevent it.


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  • Name:
    David Roberts
  • Type of entry:
  • Patent status: